Snakes, Fiestas and saying goodbye to the Sierra Nevada

(Please imagine this blog was posted on Monday June 25th)

The last week in the Sierra flew by and suddenly we’re about to leave our penultimate host! The end is in sight and we’re not too happy about it. Had we been a bit more travel-wise/ disorganised/ reckless (whatever you want to call it) we probably could have saved a lot of money by hitching and car-pooling instead of getting inter-rail passes for the trains, and maybe could have stayed away for longer. But alas, next time.

So, what happened last week… Last Tuesday was our second day off after climbing San Juan on Monday. Karen had to go in to Granada for the day and Andres went along, whilst me and Matthew and Aldus stayed home and looked after the dogs. They were so sweet when Karen left, especially Bob (Marley) who’s only been there for a couple of months and is still quite young. She was one of many abandoned dogs in Spain, rescued by Karen’s “neighbours” (they live 7km away) Isa and Humphrey, and when she first arrived Karen said she was half the size, never wagged her tail, and was terrified if anyone had a stick in here hand, or lifted up their arm quickly – because she thought she was going to get beaten. Now though, she is such a sweetie and so eager to please and her and Jimi (Hendrix) are the best of friends – although, Jimi’s very much in charge in play fights. Also, Jimi seems to have a bit of a gender identity crisis, both the dogs are girls but every evening (usually around dinner time), Jimi mounts Bob and really tries to get her groove on. Bob’s been in heat the last week or so and is quite in to the whole thing, so every evening we get to see this weird live lesbian dog porn.

Anyway… when Karen went out on Tuesday, we had to keep the dogs in the house for around ten minutes (we did twenty to be sure because I was super paranoid about losing the dogs while Karen was out) to make sure they didn’t follow the car and try and run all the way to Granada. Bob was crying and running from the door to the window, so sweet. I think Jimi finally explained to her what was going on and she chilled out for a bit and they were both pretty sleepy for most of the day – like us. I think Jimi was pretty knackered from the San Juan walk too and spent most of the day sleeping on Karen’s bed. Matthew and I were also very lazy on Tuesday, we did some reading, did a few little watering jobs around the garden, watched a few episodes of Community (can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this already, but we’ve been hooked since Rich gave us all the episodes at ECOlonie)… Karen left us some lentil soup for lunch and afterwards Aldus set off for a walk to Isa and Humpries who he’d met on the way to Karen’s and who were trying to help him fix his netbook. So, Aldus set off around two and me and Matthew took the dogs for a walk down to the river which marks the end of Karen’s land… we saw a snake skin on the way down (as Andres had told us we would!) and spent a while wondering along different paths/through bushes. I put my feet in the river which was iceeee cold! But, as Matthew pointed out – it is melted snow.

Six hours after he set off, Aldus wasn’t back. Maybe he’d decided to stay the night there? We decided to give him until 9pm before we started making some dinner. No sign of him at nine, so we made a weird dinner of left over lentil soup, pasta, the veg left in the fridge, and a fried egg on top because we fancied it. It was a pretty paprika based meal because Matthew accidentally poured a whole load in, and we saved some for Aldus reluctantly because we didn’t really want anyone else to try it! Aldus finally arrived home just after 10pm – 8 hours after he’d left. It turned out he’d gotten really lost, and was walking around for six hours before he found Isa & Humphrey’s place! Considering he knew it was two hours away, you could say it was a little stupid/impressive (you decide) of him to keep walking for six hours… but hey, he did find it eventually. After taking the music & films he wanted from his hard-drive and having something to eat, he had to run a lot of the way back to Karen’s to try and get there before dark… So his day wasn’t as chilled out as ours.

Karen and Andres got back really late that night… apparently. I’d gone to bed hours before – being lazy is tiring – but Matthew stayed up with Aldus, because it was Matthew and I who had been in charge of the dogs really… and only a little bit because Karen was bringing him some more tobacco from Granada!

I can’t remember much about what happened on Wednesday, apart from that I drank way too much cider at lunchtime and whilst playing afternoon cards and accidentally fell asleep and slept through what was meant to be our two evening working hours, 5-7. I’d gone to the van to change from sandals to converse, ready for work, just before five and then woke up on the bed at seven. Oops. Karen was so nice though and said not to worry at all – imagine doing that at a real job! – and in fact she’d been saying to the others that she couldn’t remember what she’d asked me to do and worrying that I was okay because it seemed to be taking me so long!

I was feeling guilty about sleeping through working so I woke up a little earlier on Thursday and got started on work an hour or so earlier than usual. I was tying up the tomato plants and as no one else was in the garden yet, I had my iPod in. That was a lovely morning – it was before the heat of the day, the tomato smell was delicious, I decided to listen to everything on my iPod by Throwing Muses or Kristin Hersch and like each time I listen to them, discovered more lyrics to be blown away by… I really like her writing style. So yeah, that was a goooood morning.

Andres was feeling really ill that day so stayed inside and tried to get some rest… I didn’t see Aldus all morning because I’d had breakfast earlier, the others saw him at breakfast and then he disappeared. We thought he probably wasn’t feeling well either as Andres said that neither of them had had a good nights sleep (they were both staying in the bunkhouse) and he’d heard Aldus get up a lot in the night. Just before lunch, when Matthew and I were planting garlic in the bottom garden, we saw Aldus in the doorway of the bunkhouse, so we knew he was awake. So, just before lunch I went half way down the slope and shouted to him…
“Aldus! Do you want lunch?”
He appeared at the side of the bunkhouse and shook his head.
“Are you feeling rough?”
“No.”
“But you don’t want lunch?”
“No.”
Okay. So we all sat down to lunch… sweetcorn fritters I think it was, yum. We were just digging in when Aldus walked past with his rucksack on his back and didn’t say a word. Weird. Andres ran after him, because he’s lovely like that, and also because he connected with Aldus more than the rest of us – maybe because they were sharing the bunkhouse, or maybe just because he’s more patient.

So, Aldus left. I felt bad for Karen because, understandably, she felt it was a negative reflection on her as a host that someone would just leave like that. I also found it really rude, immature and just plain mean to leave like that. If he’d wanted to sneak off quietly, he had the whole morning to do so, but he waited until we were all sat down for lunch on the terrace…why? Also, I don’t get how someone could go without saying anything, whatever the situation. If I felt I’d been treated badly in some way – I’d want to say something, and if I just felt a place wasn’t right for me or whatever – I’d want to say something. I do hope that wherever he ended up next was a better fit for him and that he’s happy.

On Friday, it was time for Andres to leave for a Capoeria workshop in a nearby town. I want to find out some more about Capoeria, but as we understood from Andres it’s a Brazilian movement based on self-discipline which blends dance, fighting, art and music. So the plan was for Matthew and I to stay back and look after the dogs whilst Karen took Andres to the bus and also to show him her other piece of land which she is selling and which he may be interested in. In the morning though, Karen asked if Matthew and I would like to go along for the day out so we did!

First stop was Ugijar for some beer and yummy free tapas at the place we went to when we first arrived. Then we drove to a nearby town called Meccina Bombaron and to Karen’s land which is just outside. It’s a beautiful spot with so much potential, full of chestnut trees and fig trees, amazing views, and there’s a small stone building which could be renovated or plenty of space to build something new. Man, if I had some money I would be on it like a shot. After wandering around the land for a while, we walked to Karen’s friend Joe’s house nearby who’s doing an eco-renovation on another little stone building. He’s using hemp plastering on the walls as extra insulation, and it looked very similar to the earthen plaster we were working with in the Pyrenees.

After that, we walked into Meccina Bombaron (the small town is a really nice, and short, walk from Karen’s property) and got some more beer and tapa – free food is the best. We were a little late for the bus Andres was planning on getting from Meccina Bombaron so Karen offered to drive him to where his Capoeria workshop was being held in a bigger town, an hour or so away, called Lanjoron. So, off we went! There was a fiesta in Lanjaron this weekend, as there was in many towns in Spain to celebrate the longest day of the year a couple of days before. It’s funny how at fiestas or street festivals all around the world, there seems to be the same stalls selling the same tacky handbags/ sunglasses/ sandals. The fiestas in the smaller towns tend to have more authentic Spanish things and often locally produced stuff apparently, but Lanjaron’s a slightly bigger town so there was a lot of tack around. But it was cool that we got to see a town at fiesta time… it was the early evening after the first night so it was just starting to pick up again, people waking up from their siestas and starting to come out. The streets were full of flags and decorations and there was lots of groups of young people with matching customised t-shirts – which is the done thing at fiestas, Andres told us. So we went to get a drink… I got an iced coffee, which in Spain just comes out as a glass of ice and a double espresso in a separate glass. You put your sugar in (if you want it) and then pour the coffee over the ice. Delicious. They brought out a big plate of little sausages and bread as the free tapa, much to Matthew’s delight. So, Karen asked for a veggie option – a little plate of salad – and I decided to try a sausage. It seems that in between eating vegan-ish or very vegetarian at most places we stay, I seem to be in to trying out meat for the first time in years (drunk incidents not included). I didn’t like the sausage though, way too greasy and meaty and did not sit well on my stomach at all. So I promptly ordered a cheese and salad sandwich so that the sausage wouldn’t be alone in my stomach on the windy journey back.

After refuelling our bodies, it was time to say goodbye to Andres. What a great guy, I really hope I get to see him again someday. Then, Karen decided to treat us to a bit more sight-seeing on what was turning in to a bit of a tourist day and drove the long way back to Valor, via Trevellas, the highest village in Spain. The journey was incredible, mind-blowing views and scenery and drove through a few typical Spanish mountain towns and villages, including Trevellas. I’d really like to go back to that area some day and travel round with a van, stopping in all the little towns. I love Spain and I love the Spanish attitude – so relaxed, easy-going and good humoured.

It was almost eleven by the time we got back to Valor and went to meet Karen’s Irish friend Siobhan (who uses Karen’s ‘civilisation car’ when Karen is up the hill) and her daughter Esme in an awesome little bar which was completely open-air with lights, music, a little water fountain, a pool table and a foozball table…and of course, free tapa with your drink. We stayed for a few drinks and a chat and Matthew got a pizza (a veggie one so that me and Karen could steal some!). It was so lovely and warm, I was still comfortable in a sleevless dress and sandals at 1am – bliss. We drove back up the mountain pretty late and crashed out in the van just before two.

The last two days at Karen’s were pretty chilled. We did a lot of planting and I can’t wait to see the photos of all the dozens of sunflowers and marigolds we planted when they come up! It’s going to be so pretty. Matthew and I helped Karen put up some canes to shade the terrace and it was really nice to be able to sit outside in the middle of the day again. It was really hot the last few days up the hill, and was staying hotter into the evenings – still twenty-five degrees at 11pm on one night! We played poker both of the last two nights because… well, we’d gotten a little obsessed with it. On Sunday we had a longer break after lunch as it was our last day, and we even squeezed in a game of Scrabble and a game of Down and Up the Mountain in the afternoon! We had a movie swapping session and now my hard-drive is bursting.

On Sunday evening we saw a snake! We’re not sure if it was a viper because it was pretty long, but the head-shape and colouring looked like it could have been. We were up on the terrace finishing dinner and I noticed Sid looking like she was about to pounce on something down by the ruins. My thought process kind of went ‘Oh what’s Sid looking at… oh she’s got another lizard… wow that’s a big lizard… wait, that’s a snake!’. So then we all had a little panic and had to bribe Sid up to the terrace with milk and get the dogs inside for a bit whilst we got the binoculars and cameras and had a good look. Karen told us a story about when she was up at the house by herself and there was a huge snake on the terrace which Sid was way too interested in and it stayed there for ages and the dogs were trying to take a look… and in the end she ended up cutting the snake into three pieces with a shovel but the three separate pieces were still moving for a good five minutes – she even had time to get all the animals inside, get her video camera and make a short film!

On Monday it was time to say goodbye to Cortijo Fuente del Espino… But I’m sure I’ll be back! We headed into Ugijar mid-morning to have plenty of time for beer and tapas before he bus. We bumped into Karen’s friend, another local Scotsman called David and listened to his stories about life in Glasgow and then the many annoying British folk living around Ugijar and Valor. We moved onto a bar in Valor, right by the bus stop, for our last beer & tapa. We both had so much fun at Karen’s and I really love the life she’s living up there. She’s such a strong, independent woman – a real inspiration. But it was time to say goodbye and head back Granada for a couple of nights before travelling north to our last adventure… for now.

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